Me And My Girl
Chichester Festival Theatre Until Aug 25 2hrs45mins
What a chance this proved for an actor called Ryan Pidgen. There he was, a nobody in the cast. Then a few hours before curtain-up on the opening night, the show’s star, Matt Lucas – the bald one from the Little Britain comedy series – cried off. Strained tonsils.
Pidgen was volunteered to go onstage in the lead role of Bill Snibson, the Lambeth lad who inherits an earldom, and do his best.
Was he any good? He was terrific! A big, lunky chap with genuine funny bones, he effortlessly brought swagger and charm to the part and the audience adored him. He was particularly adept at dispensing the gags. ‘Aperitif, my lord?’ a servant offers. ‘No thanks, I’ve got me own,’ Bill answers. There’s one of these every 45 seconds.
A few hours before curtain-up on the opening night, the show’s star, Matt Lucas – the bald one from the Little Britain comedy series – cried off. Strained tonsils
The Lambeth Walk has a dazzling troupe of pearly kings and queens furiously flapping their elbows. Leaning On A Lamp-Post is as imperishable as The Sun Has Got Its Hat On
IT’S A FACT
Robert Lindsay starred in the 1984 West End production alongside a then unknown Emma Thompson, subsequent winner of two Oscars.
Daniel Evans’s production isn’t perfect but it gets to the heart of this charmingly idiotic, terribly British 1937 show, buffed up by Stephen Fry in the mid-Eighties. As Sally, Bill’s sweetheart, Alex Young struck me as more mockney than cockney, though she did the business.
Clive Rowe is oddly unfunny as the crusty buffer Sir John. But Caroline Quentin is terrific as the manipulative Duchess of Dene, a drawingroom heavyweight who could land a punch on any of P G Wodehouse’s formidable aunts.
Above: Dominic Marsh as the Hon Gerald Bollingbroke and Siubhan Harrison as Lady Jacqueline Carstone
Memorable, too, is Jennie Dale as the toe-tapping, transgendered family solicitor. At his stately home, Bill learns the cut-glass brutality of the snob class – that includes the servants – who think he’s just an oik. London pride preserves him.
The Lambeth Walk has a dazzling troupe of pearly kings and queens furiously flapping their elbows. Leaning On A Lamp-Post is as imperishable as The Sun Has Got Its Hat On, the latter sung by this multi-racial company, probably unaware that the song’s pre-war racism has been discreetly expurgated.
This splendid musichall- flavoured show comes up trumps. As for Matt Lucas, I think they should put him on gardening leave and keep Ryan Pidgen centre stage. He’s bloomin’ brilliant.
The Knights of Rose
Arts Theatre, London Until Aug 26 2hrs 10mins
The cod-Arthurian Knights of the Rose have no sooner returned home after a long campaign, swept various maidens off their feet and hoisted a few flagons in their local, than they’re off to battle again, riding to the martial strains of Muse, Meat Loaf and er… Bonnie Tyler.
Perhaps this rock musical seemed like a great idea at the planning stage: marry some banging anthems to a mock medieval melodrama. If played for out-and-out laughs or even with a few knowing winks to the audience, it might just work.
But this is deadly earnest. And while no one expects depth and complexity in a jukebox musical, audiences do like a bit of a story and a smidgin of character development.
Perhaps this rock musical seemed like a great idea at the planning stage: marry some banging anthems to a mock medieval melodrama. Above: Chris Cowley as Sir Palamon
Here the plot amounts to ‘knights woo and then war’, and we couldn’t care less about Prince Gawain and Sir Palamon and all who – when not delivering lines lifted from Shakespeare and Chaucer, among others – say things like ‘What ails you?’ and ‘It becomes you well’.
The performance follows the cod-Arthurian Knights of the Rose who swept various maidens off their feet and hoisted a few flagons in their local, than they’re off to battle again
The music, played by a band perched on castle battlements, is good, the talented cast can sing, and they certainly can’t be faulted for their professionalism, committing to the material as if it really were Shakespeare. Unfortunately, it’s not enough. Knights Of The Rose is just a night of woes.
Playhouse Theatre, London Until Nov 3, 2hrs 50mins
Never has a gilt and plush West End theatre been so transformed. You walk from the foyer into the Calais refugee camp called The Jungle, bulldozed two years ago.
What hits you is the noise, the chaos, the babel of languages and the smell of cooking in a playhouse that – thanks to designer Miriam Buether – is now Salar’s Afghan Cafe. You sit at tables on a mud floor, beneath a canvas ceiling, and you’ll get a plastic cup of chai that’s not bad.
Arabic, French and English are spoken – actually mostly yelled – and hope and despair visibly crash over traumatised, angry people hoping to stow aboard a lorry to Britain. About the only thing missing in this theatre squat is the pong of sewage.
Never has a gilt and plush West End theatre been so transformed. You walk from the foyer into the Calais refugee camp called The Jungle, bulldozed two years ago Above: Ammar Haj Ahmad
IT’S A FACT
In October 2016, 6,400 migrants in 170 buses were evacuated from the Calais camp. They were due to be resettled in other regions of France.
Ben Turner is superb as community leader and chef Salar, whose restaurant never closes. Rachid Sabitri is the creepy human trafficker who hands clients an onion to fool the guard dogs.
Of an international cast of adults and kids, the middle-class British volunteers are committed yet oddly insufferable.Of the individual tales told I would single out John Pfumojena’s Okot, a hideously scarred 17-year-old who walked through hell all the way from Sudan.
John Pfumojena’s Okot, a hideously scarred 17-year-old, tells a tale of blowtorch intensity. From left: John Pfumojena, Mohamed Sarrar, Cherno Jagne and Jonathan Nyati
Of the individual tales told I would single out John Pfumojena’s Okot, a hideously scarred 17-year-old who walked through hell all the way from Sudan. He contributes a terrifying, dead-eyed monologue of blowtorch intensity.
Occasionally the show – directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, and written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson – gets a bit preachy. I even sympathised with the French official as the camp swells to bursting. What on earth do we do about this massive, growing crisis that is changing governments all over Europe?
What hits you is the noise, the chaos, the babel of languages and the smell of cooking in a playhouse that is now Salar’s Afghan Cafe. Ben Turner (above) as Salar
The reason this show works is that it carefully humanises the issue. The camp is brought to life with real passion and conscience. This is that rare thing – an urgent play and a gulp-in-the-throat encounter you have to experience.
Home I’m Darling
National Theatre, London Until Sep 5 2hrs30mins
The superb title suggests we’re in for an amiable old sex farce. But this is a cracking new play by Laura Wade, author of the West End hit Posh.
It’s about a married couple who’ve done up their house Fifties-style, dress in Fifties clothes, and are even living out their 21st-century marriage in Fifties roles.
This is about a married couple who are living out their 21st-century marriage in Fifties roles. Richard Harrington as Johnny with Katherine Parkinson as Judy
We see Judy beamingly serve hubby his breakfast. His slippers and a cocktail are waiting for Johnny when he gets home. As a reluctantly modern husband, I sat there thinking: ‘If only.’
Of course, the domestic paradise is soon scuppered, by debt, disapproval (Sian Thomas is Judy’s impatient feminist granny) and adulterous urges. Katherine Parkinson is superb as the childless, brittle wife, and Richard Harrington dead dapper as her fantasy husband.
This show reveals that Laura Wade is half in love with a safer, kinder past. Katherine Parkinson with Sara Gregory (left)
Wittily directed by Tamara Harvey on a fabulous Fifties doll’s-house set, this show reveals that Laura Wade is half in love with a safer, kinder past.
This crispy cheese straw of a comedy – a co-production between Theatr Clwyd and the National Theatre – shines a light in some dark corners of a couple’s dream, and the Fifties soundtrack is a joy.